tv Al Jazeera World News LINKTV February 27, 2013 7:00pm-7:30pm PST
welcome to another session of beliefs and believers. i'm dr. john simmons, and we've been asking eastern religions to help us understand the experiential dimension. a very interesting class last time on hinduism - some chanting, we talked to a leader of the hare krishna temple about religious experience, achman and brahman being one, the sense of connectedness, working through
many different lives, reincarnation in order to find moksha, to find peace. and in this class, we're going to look at buddhism, which believe me, folks we'll be asking buddhism to help us understand the religious experience. but it's an even more fascinating set of answers to profound life questions. maybe one of the most perplexing for the eastern mind is buddhism, and we're going to be going through that today. but to make that all - important segue between hinduism and buddhism, which of course the segue in history is the buddha himself who makes that connection, one of our top students here, janet, was not here last week because she was in a hindu retreat, and i thought i'd ask janet - i know you were there. i'd like to, first of all, get you to do the chant you learned, and tell us a little bit, then, about your retreat. [bells chime] [chanting]
>> well, maybe i'm overly sensitive, but even listening to that in the classroom, there's a change of tone, a change of - a feel in that. that's very beautiful, janet. could you tell us a little bit about the retreat and what that particular chant might do for you experientially, since we're into that element? >> it was a yoga retreat led by a master, ramanand patel, who usually teaches in san francisco, but he made a special trip to minneapolis so we could study with him - he was my teacher's teacher. and at the end of every class - maybe three hours long - of yoga, he would chant to us
as we were lying flat, with our bodies - first he would ask to completely relax all of our muscles of our bodies. then he would chant that chant for us, and it's a chant for your heart, and i could always feel it - if i was relaxed - i could always feel it vibrating my body like from the center out to my shoulders. >> does the whole group chant or just - >> no, just the master chanted. >> he would chant, because even as you are chanting in here, again, there's that sense of peace. and we listened to the hare krishna devotees in the last class talk about their chanting brought them into a presence of the divine to such an extent that tears would come to their eyes. we heard the swami from the vedanta temple talk about chanting bringing him a sense of oneness. in your own words, janet, could you, given our study of religious experience, frame it in any way, a sense of feeling? >> of a happy breath. that the breath is full and happy. >> a completeness, a wholeness.
see, that's what i think we're seeing here in the hindu world, as we see in so many other religious traditions is the religious experience is the start on which these other dimensions build that we'll look at - i mean, i think, certainly the case. but very beautiful. and we're not setting aside hinduism as we move into buddhism. we want to keep that in mind, some of these ideas in hinduism because we'll go back to them again and again. but when we move onto buddhism, let me give you a little bit of a background because it's a fascinating story, and we're going to go through some of the most extraordinary answers to profound life questions. the myth of the buddha, the story, is so great, but essentially, he was a very wealthy young man, brought up perhaps to be a king, or brought up perhaps to be a great religious leader. and his father had wanted him to be a king, a political leader, so he kept him in the palace, and he never let him out. but somehow - and this story varies here - the buddha escapes or gets out or goes on a journey,
and he sees first a sick man. and then he e sees a man who's decrepit, who's old. and then he encounters death. and he lives this wonderful luxurious life and he goes back into the palace, and he becomes - well, to use our terminology - a seeker. to see old age, to see sickness, and to see death, mortality gets him thinking those profound life quons that we've talked about in class - what is the meaning of life if, inevitably, we end up dying, if inevitably, there is suffering, if inevitably, there's pain? and this seems to be the buddha's story. so, though he has a wonderful life, a beautiful son - very colorful imagery in these - has everything that life could offer a human being, he still is disturbed - he's a seeker; he's a quester. and as the story goes, he leaves the beautiful palace, goes out into the forest, lives the life of a hindu,
ascetic, a yogi - he tries all those yoga practices we talked about - tries every avenue he can to find enlightenment. and then finally, one day, he sits under the bodhi tree and he becomes awakened - this man, this human being, siddhartha gautama, a human being, becomes awake. and that's what buddha means - it's he awakens to something so extraordinary as a set of answers to profound life questions that i wanted to go through it as we're talking about the experiential dimension, because at the heart - i mean, what the buddha experienced when he became awake - and of course, the buddha in its original form, in theravada buddhism - well just like jesus, i don't think the buddha meant to start a religion. in fact, if he came back and saw some of the religious expressions of buddhism today, i think he'd go right back and hide under that bodhi tree - so different from what he was about. but what he conceived of, this awakenness that he came to,
every single one of us could achieve. and the reason i like to bring it up at this point, and certainly down at western illinois university, my students tend to be, for the most part, maybe 85 percent, maybe the 18 to 21-year-old stage, with not a lot of life experience. but when we go through what i want to go through today in terms of buddha's insights, they seem to be - it's almost as though they take religion - if everyone practiced what the buddha conceived of as our problem in life, if everyone did that, it's almost like you could throw religion out - you wouldn't even need myth and ritual and doctrines and ethical dimension, because everything would be complete. and the insight that he had is so common to all of us, that we suffer and there's a way out of it. and what you come out the other side of it, it's an extraordinary path. before doing that, though, i want to just start out with a roll-in, because buddhism
in the united states is growing by leaps and bounds, and we want to come back, as we move through the initial insights that the buddha has, we want to come back and try to scratch our heads and say, "what is the appeal?" "what is the appeal of this extraordinary set of answers to profound life questions?" i should mention also, the buddha is a historical figure. roughly, people figured he was born in northern india maybe 560, before the common era, and lived his life in that particular time. so he was a man, and in the traditional form, that's how he's looked at, but a very wise man indeed. so before we go into the eightfold path, the four noble truths, the standard teachings of the buddha, and see where that takes us in terms of religious or spiritual or even human experience, let's listen to nancy mccagney. we were at the zen center in san francisco, and one of the appeals of buddhism is something we've already seen in hinduism and heard over and over again in our class,
which is a real desire on the part of those of us in this complex, overwhelming, stressful world we all live in, for some kind of interconnectedness, for some kind of inner peace. and nancy mccagney will talk about one of the newest traditions in buddhism, which is actually wilderness hiking - kind of a combination of monist mysticism and nature mysticism. so let's hear from nancy mccagney at the zen center in san francisco. >> we're at the san francisco zen center, and we're speaking with professor nancy mccagney from the university of delaware. now, nancy has a very interesting field of study, because it combines eastern religions, particularly buddhism, and also environmental studies, environmental ethics. nancy, why is there a natural connection between buddhism and environmental ethics? >> i think one of the reasons is seeing the entire universe as the buddha, and this planet as the buddha - the hope that buddha nature
is suffused throughout the environment is part of it. and so one way to celebrate that or to meditate on that is to walk, and walking meditation is a traditional buddhist practice. hiking in the u.s. is a traditional practice. to hike mindfully in wilderness, paying attention to the breathing - so let's say you take four steps in, four steps out, breathing out, paying attention to the wind, the every leaf and petal, every sound of every bird, the feeling of the path under you, the pebbles, and so forth, hearing the sound of the stream all of that is opportunity to practice right mindfulness - being present and fully alert and aware. it is difficult to do that in an urban environment - it's of course possible. but being in nature, it's comfortable to do that, to be that alert to every single perturbation, every sound.
and so i think there's a new form of buddhism evolving in the united states. we've got buddhism in america - here we are at zen buddhist center in san francisco. but is there such a thing as american buddhism? and i think there is growing to be such a thing as american buddhism, and it has to do with hiking in wilderness as a form of meditation practice. >> there's a hint there in what she says, about why buddhism is growing so much in the united states. and it's also something that's, well, disturbing for me, and i'd like to get your reaction, especially as we go through the course, because, it's obvious when you speak of christianity or judaism or islam that you have all the elements of religion. and of course, when you speak of mahayana buddhism or tibetan buddhism, you also see all the elements. but the essential buddhist insight - now 2,500 years old - just cuts to the very core
of human experience. and here we have a person in our time saying that to walk in the woods, in a mindful manner, to pay complete attention to what's in the present, is something that would bring you great peace. she's not talking about even chanting or singing hymns or doing something like that - she's simply talking about paying attention. and could it be so simple, in our frenetic, crazy, discordant world? could it simply be that all we had to do was pay attention to where we are right in front of us now, and that's the secret? we don't need religion, we don't need all this - we just have to pay attention? well, what a remarkable thing. and in some senses, i think that's where the buddha's heading. of course, buddhism, as i mentioned, we'll get into the notes here, i'd like to think of what - the buddha's insight as kind of a ball covered in velcro. and originally,
it has no characteristics, really, of religion or anything at all - it's probably the original self-actualization program. but it's this ball covered with velcro, but as it rolls through the centuries, and rolls through the different countries, like china and japan, and then into the united states and korea, and wherever it rolls, it collects the cultural trappings of the various traditions, so that today - we'll do a little bit of that, because we'll go to the rather austere zen center and speak to a zen teacher. we'll also go to the tibetan buddhist center, and we'll also go to - where else will we go? we're going to go to a kuralan buddhist temple, and you'll see the diversity there. so it's picked up so many elements, but in essence, whoa, what an insight, and that's what i want to go through today. chris, did you have a comment? >> i was just going to say if any of you have read dr. scott peck;
the road less traveled, and then i read that first, and then i read some more - i read the buddhist - basically, the buddhist bible, and then houston smith's - version of what buddhism is, and it sounds a lot like - and i think dr. scott peck saw - if you're ever watching him on tv and you've seen these segments, it seems like he picked up a lot from buddhism, and he almost basically used his whole psychoanalysis or psychotherapy on the tenets of buddhism. >> chris, i think you're exactly right. whether he studied buddhism or he didn't, i can't imagine how you would come up with a program for self-actualization and not run into these ancient tenets. and that's why every time i go through this segment, over and over again, i watch it in my life, and we've made the case very firmly in the introduction
to this class that we're not in the business of teaching religion here, but just for a goof, for the fun of it, to see what happens, just take a few of the insights that we'll garner from this class, and observe them in your life, and you cannot get away with it. scott peck, whatever, anybody, you cannot get away from what this gentleman was saying, because it's really quite simple but so complex - that we suffer because we think we have a separate sense of self, and we strive to maintain a separate sense of self, which is nonsense because it's all one in some very cosmic or mystical way. and as long as we run our lives from the perspective of an ego, which isn't true, we will constantly be battered and pushed and punched. so how do we get out of it? well, we'll see - the eightfold path - we break that addiction to a separate ego, level of consciousness. and that's kind of what peck's saying - why do people suffer?
well, because they're always living in the land of why-me's, what-ifs, if-onlies, it's sad, but so hard to get out of it. janet? >> the connection thing you were talking about, and if you listen to those star wars movies carefully - "may the force be with you" - the zen stuff is all over those movies. the zen, the daoist zen element in here too - the what is it? who's that little guy in the - >> yoda. >> yoda, yeah. "let's raise up the spaceship", "let's see if we can raise up the camera here." the idea that - the force. but there's a kind of power. now we have - well, it's not even worth it in one class to try to sort out all the different buddhist perspectives - we'd get nowhere. but the idea that what blocks us being in a flow that brings - it doesn't bring harmony as though one would pray for good things to happen. through mindfulness, as nancy mccagney was talking about in her journey through the forest - through the eightfold path
of the practices - the practices that the buddha perceive - it is a way of breaking out of this illusion, understanding the - well, two things we'll get to in later graphics as soon as we go through the essential ones - but two concepts that are so interesting to look at in your own lives that we'll get to in the later graphics, but i'm so interested, i have to bring them up now - dependent origination and no self. the fact that - we'll get more into this - but check this out as soon as you leave class - what is this thing that you think is the self? it is always being developed in relationship, and so we talked about those two key things - identity and relationship. well, what the buddha is saying is forget identity - it all happens in relationship. and so what you're thinking is like a rock standing in the river is an illusion - it's just a consistent flow. and the applicability of it is what's so amazing, is because it sounds like i'm
up here preaching for buddhism, but i'm not - i don't think i'm a buddhist, but who knows. i certainly don't have any buddhist practices or go to a buddhist church, but as i've read and studied, and you mentioned houston smith's article, i think houston smith's famous book, religions of man , i think it is, if you're really curious to get the essence of buddhism, it's a wonderful article. but as you read through that, you see that even applying some of these ideas just a hair in your daily life, if nothing else, it gives you a whole new perspective on why it is you suffer. speaking of suffering, let's do the classic thing that we would do in a religious studies class, which is to look at the four noble truths on the graphics, and just track through this, and see where he's headed in terms of the graphics. the buddha - let's see, in terms of the buddha's insight, we have four noble truths,
and the truths are encapsulated in a single idea here - that life is suffering. now, when we speak - did anybody here suffer lately? anybody having a great time? now, janet just said that the chanting brought her a sense of happiness, that happiness came from it. well, for most of us life is purely suffering, and this was the insight. again, remember, the buddha has gone through years, years and years of hindu ascetics, of coming to doing everything a good hindu could do to get it. you could almost see a kind of frustration there. i mean, you read the story and the myths are so beautiful. but i want to be happy, i want to know the truth, i want to have those answers to profound life questions, i want to do it. and nothing seemed to work. and so he thinks and thinks and thinks back to the poor man who's decrepit and he thinks back to the man who's dead
and perhaps the woman who's being taken over by old age, and he says, "what's it all worth?" he asks that question. so he comes up with these four noble truths - it sounds very noble and very glorious, but i like to think of them as the four just "get down" truths, because i mean, we're talking about - it's the kind of thing that we all see. so he says that the first noble truth- life is suffering; dukkha is the term - we suffer. why do we suffer? well, there's a vast list of them on the graphics that we can go through, and many of them that he's seen. the suffering of pain. the suffering of loss. here we have the struggle of birth. we have the pathology of sickness. and look how that is - i mean, we no sooner get over a new disease than another one rears its head,
some new microbe, some new kind- we're struggling with cancer and maybe seeing some hope there, and aids comes up, and we have to struggle, so we have this kind of thing going on. old age we already mentioned, just to go down the list-old age, decrepitude. another key thing that's so very painful is when you're - we'll get to the second one here about being attached - but when you are torn from something you love. i mean, you really love something and you're torn away from it, and of course, death is that way, but it can be many other things. or perhaps you're addicted to something that is not good for you. we're having a little talk about coffee up here. of course, that's not much of one. but the idea that you're attached to something that is painful. it could be a bad job, a bad boss, you know what - we all go through these things. and you know what? the general picture that we paint here is that life's a bummer. i think every human being can
relate to some extent to that. ever meet a happy person though? if you know a happy person, great. kind of ask them, "what's going on?" "what's happening here?" so the second truth is the "why" question, and this is the brilliant part. we suffer - the second noble truth is we suffer because we desire. now, desire is not simply like, "boy, i sure would desire a coke right now because it's kind of hot." we're talking about something that's more profound. the word in sanskrit is tanha , and it's more ke pulling away from the flow of life; it's more like we're clinging to clinging to something that you shouldn't really have or it's just pulling yourself away from being connected to the world around you, for all kinds of different reasons. but we all have that, and the source of that is the ego - we have ego desire
we want to be this and that and the other thing. i think about the classic scenario is you work and save - you want this shiny new camaro, so you work and save and get all your money and, "if i had this camaro, i'd be happy!" okay. great. so you do whatever you have to do, probably suffer a lot, you get this camaro, you pull into toys 'r us, walk in, and one of those heavy duty rv things goes bam, and you get a huge dent in it, and you go out, and there's the dent. i mean, it's like - we've all been through that kind of thing, that we think we want things, we think things will make us happy, and they won't do it. so the buddhist says first off, life's suffering, the reason we suffer is because of tanha , but a way i like to read it - perhaps it's my own feel, more of a psychological pitch on it - but i kind of think of it as tanha is the ego perception of life, of you being separate and having to struggle over and against it and fighting everything for your own.
the third noble truth - there's light at the end of the tunnel. he says, "there's hope. suffering can be stopped; we can transcend it." and again, these are the kinds of things he comes to while he's sitting under the bodhi tree. but the third noble truth is that we can overcome it. and the fourth, then, having said we can do it, is how do we do it, and that takes us into something that you probably are at least reasonably familiar with, but that's the eightfold path - that the first three truths, our get down, down to earth truths, are that we suffer, we suffer because we desire or pull apart or seek to run our own separate existence according to our own rules over and against the universe that our hindu friends have already told us we are actually one with, but we don't think that way for a variety of interesting reasons. the third noble truth is,
"but, there's hope, folks - we can get out of it." and then the fourth noble truth is that we can get out of it through the eightfold path. so any questions or comments? i haven't really hit the selflessness or the no-self part and dependent origination, but or even things that you might just give us as anecdotes in your life that where you've seen this sort of thing occur. we're not talking religion here - sure. >> i suffered from depression a few years ago, and everything was stripped away from me. and at one of the low points, i designed a sweatshirt, and it was a child, which i think of my inner child, the buddha under the bow, and the inscription was,
"i am, for the time, being." and that described the, sort of the essence of who i felt i was in terms of buddhism, because that's enough in buddhism - to be rather than to do - and at that point, i wasn't a doer, but i felt value just in being. >> do you know how - that sounds so simple - to have value in being, as opposed to value in doing - it sounds so simple to say, but it is such a profound leap towards enlightenment, towards peace to do that kind of thing. it's a very difficult thing for people to do, but how true, because we tend to measure - i mean, when you look at buddhism, first off, you know exactly why it's catching on in
the united states, because we're driving ourselves nuts here. i mean, it's just - remember back in some of your - i'm getting kind of old here, but i can remember the jetsons - remember that cartoon, the jetsons? and this was something, if you grew up in the late '50s and '60s, you were taught in school that, oh, by 1984, we're all going to live in this jetsonian paradise, where everything's perfect and all these robots take care of stuff, and we're just going to kind of kick back and do the seinfeld number, just the infinite minutia. but if anything, all technology has done has made us more frantic about our doing, doing, doing. and much of what you're saying is that - is the buddha, through the eightfold path, which we'll get up here shortly is ways to learn to be. yeah? >> i think that a lot of this happens to us naturally as children, this being. i remember times as a child, my father would mow the lawn, i'd go outside and i'd
roll around in the clippings, i could feel them on my clothes, i smelt them in my hair, and i don't know, that kind of thing doesn't seem to happen very often once you get a little older. but it was wonderful, and i remember all those incidents. >> and you're so right, because - and i do too. and sometimes i think that my kids are my greatest gurus, because i get myself all caught up - i'm mowing the lawn, and they're - and this just happened last weekend - and they're tracking - i just also washed the floor, mopped the floor - see, what a hard worker i am? mop the floor, mow the lawn. anyway, i'm yelling at them because they're tracking - >> you were caught up in your oughts. >> my oughts - i've got a clean floor, i did it, i don't want you bringing in these stinking pieces of grass and putting them on my clean floor. and they're just in a flow. now, what drives that out of us is a - and then we have to recover it. i mean, there's a lot of reasons here, but - yeah, janet?
>> and there's forces working against you recovering it. the scariest commercials i hear on the radio these days are, "you've worked to earn a lot more money than everyone else. let us teach you how to keep it! try us!" right! there's a reasonable point of view. >> and that is exactly what the buddha is saying. and all this, going nuts over mutual funds and all of this - i mean, i can't wait until the whole stock market crashes, and then we'll just be a buddhistic - well, let's not go too far in here. but that's the idea. i mean, we have gotten into this frenzy of clinging and worry and fear, and i don't know- wherever it's going, it's not really healthy. yeah, susanna? >> also, on the way over here, i heard a commercial for sylvan learning centers, and i was really sensitive to this because the new issue of kid city had arrived in my office, and here it was a kid, about ten, and the whole backdrop is money